Events in New Mills to mark 80th anniversary of town bombing

Residents in New Mills are putting on a three day commemoration event to mark 80 years since the bombing of a church during the Second World War.

The remains of the Wesleyan Chapel and Whitfield Villas after the bombing. Picture Frank Pleszak.
The remains of the Wesleyan Chapel and Whitfield Villas after the bombing. Picture Frank Pleszak.

On July 3, 1942 two German planes flew over New Mills and dropped two bombs on the town.

Now, members of the Low Leighton congregation in New Mills are coming together to put on a series of events to remember the tragedy which struck the town and mark the 80th anniversary next month.

Mike Doughty, from the church, said: “I think this is going to be the last event we put on where there will be any people who remember what happened so we wanted to do something special.”

Church Stewards Mike Doughty and Alan Woolley with witness Geoffrey Woolley at New Mills Fire Station which now stands on the site. The plaque commemorates the victims.

One witness who was there when the attack happened was Geoffrey Woolley, who was playing cricket for New Mills School when the planes flew over.

The 98-year-old said: “I was only 13 and I remember it as clear as anything.

“It was a Friday afternoon and we were playing cricket against Hayfield school at New Mills Cricket Ground. Hayfield had just lost a wicket and a new marksman arrived at the wicket when we saw two German planes.

"They were very very low so low I could see each plane had two men in it.”The school master shouted for everyone to get down but no one listened to him.

Mike Doughty outside the church built to replace the one destroyed, he's holding a map of the raid

"We finished the match though – not that day, the school master sent us all home, but on the following Wednesday and I don’t think there is any record of who won which is a shame.

"Nothing was really going through my head – it all happened so fast they flew over us shooting machine guns and then they were gone."

Historian Frank Pleszak has looked into what happened that fateful day on which two people were killed.

He said: “There was nothing of military or governmental significance in the town. Swizzels sweet factory, which during the war made water purifying tablets for the Ministry of Defence, had co-incidentally relocated from London two years previously to avoid the blitz and was narrowly missed in the attack.”

Geoffrey Woolley who was playing in the cricket match and saw the bomb fall

He says the German bombers were heading for the propeller factory near Bolton and had travelled from France along the southern coast of England before flying up between Wales and Ireland, however low cloud cover had caused them to lose direction.

He said: “As the aeroplanes departed New Mills centre they raced over the cricket pitch and over the adjacent St George’s Church. Machine gunning had torn up the cricket pitch and scattered a game that was in progress between New Mills and Hayfield juniors but thankfully with no casualties.

“However, at Low Leighton a single bomb narrowly missed the former workhouse, which at that time was in use as Ollersett View Hospital, causing extensive damage to the roof, windows and nearby houses. But on the opposite side of the road the tin built Wesleyan Chapel and two adjacent cottages, Whitfield Villas, were completely destroyed.”

There is a plaque on New Mills Fire Station where the church was before it was destroyed, that reads ‘At 8pm on Friday July 3, 1942 two Junkers 88 of the Luftwaffe swept up the valley from the direction of Stockport. In a few brief moments they brought death and destruction to the town. A bomb dropped on this spot demolished a Methodist Chapel and nearby houses killing Daniel McKellar aged 79 and Joan Handford aged 10. A further 10 people were injured in the raid and 150 reports of damage to property were filed by residents’.

The Junkers dropped two bombs in New Mills, one in Hayfield, one at Chatsworth House and on at a quarry near Eyam.

For church warden Mike it is important to mark this event.

He said: “The bombing happened on our doorstep. It was in our town, in the place we call home and we need to keep telling the story of what happened and pass the message down to the younger generations so what happened here is never forgotten and we can learn from it.

“Peace is essential in the world and now more than ever when you think about all the goings on in Ukraine.”

To mark the occasion there will be three days of remembrance next month.

Starting on Friday July, 1 there will be a talk from Frank at the Methodist church on High Hill Road from 7.30pm. The talk is free but with a donation collection which will go towards the church upkeep.

On Saturday July, 2, also at 7.30pm in the church, there will be a brass band concert with a performance from Tintwistle Brass band, admission is £9.

And on Sunday July, 3 there will be a special anniversary service at 11am by Reverend Keith Sandow in the church.

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